The Gaza Strip is infamously known as one of the most densely populated areas in the world. While majority of people in Gaza live close to or below the poverty line, the unemployment rate in the Strip stands near 40 percent.
According to the World Bank, a report released in November ranks the Gaza Strip as third in the Arab world in terms of poverty, coming above Sudan and Yemen. Gaza also ranks the 44th poorest region in the world, with most African countries having a higher poverty rate than Gaza.
With such bleak economic conditions, a not so startling report on Ynet revealed that while millions of Gazan’s struggle to make ends meet and put food in their mouths, Hamas leaders and their associates have been wheeling and dealing in multi-million dollar deals, lining their already fattened pockets.
From million dollar land deals, purchasing luxury villas and trading in black market fuel from Egypt, Hamas’s recent money troubles are apparently due to the stealing and conniving of its own.
According to the report, former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has benefited tremendously from being a senior member of Hamas. Before 2006, when Hamas was not yet in power in Gaza, Haniyeh was a minor Hamas figure. After his bump up to a leadership positions, Haniyeh turned into a millionaire almost overnight.
“This is an unusual feat, given that he was born to a refugee family in the al-Shati refugee camp in Northern Gaza,” the report stated.
Haniyeh, who is known to own numerous homes in Gaza, has registered them under the names of his children in order to avoid any backlash. In 2010, Egyptian magazine Rose al-Yusef reported that Haniyeh paid a whopping $4 million for a 2,500 square meter plot of land in the beachfront city of Rimal.
However, where does all this wealth come from? According to the report, Haniyeh and his cronies financially benefited primarily from the “flourishing tunnel industry.” Haniyeh and other senior Hamas figures would impose a 20 percent tax on anything passing through the tunnels.
The tunnel industry reached its peak after the overthrow of former Egyptian dictator Hossni Mubarak. With the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after put in a position of power, Hamas and its associates were able to cultivate relationships with sympathetic Egyptian governmental leaders.
Khairat a-Shater, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, personally transferred tens of millions of dollars in cash to senior Hamas members in Gaza and senior commanders from Hamas’s military wing.
The tunnel systems in Rafah, a town located near the Gaza-Egypt border, flourished in the fuel smuggling industry from Sinai. The fuel was subsidized by the Egyptian government and entered Gaza at low prices. However, Hamas leaders would inflate the cost of fuel for those wishing to purchase it up to eight times. Hamas members made great profit, even as fuel shortages were reported both in Gaza and Egypt.
During the days of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, Hamas officials were no longer afraid to show off their wealth. Reports indicate that Gaza’s luxury villa market suddenly boomed, with most of them purchased by Hamas members.
Those Hamas leaders who were afraid to hold on to cash reinvested the funds into Egyptian businesses that had ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. In many cases, Ayman Taha, one of Hamas’s founders and a former spokesman, would handle the transactions himself.
While ties with the Muslim Brotherhood helped line the pockets of Hamas, political leaders Khaled Mashal also benefited greatly. According to the report, Mashal used Hamas funds for his own purposes. Mashal is reported to have had control of a $2.6 billion fund spread out between Qatar and Egypt.
An accumulation of investments in various projects in the Arab and Muslim world, the money was the main source of funding for the Gaza-based terror organization. Mashal had no problem spending the group’s money as if it was his own.
Investments made through front companies allowed Hamas to purchase shares in various commercial companies and widely expand its real estate portfolio globally. Mashal would use the money to make personal investments registered under family and associates. Companies that are linked to Mashal in Qatar, for example, are registered to his wife and daughters.
One particular project in the Qatari capital of Doha is unofficially linked to Mashal. The Fadil real estate firm, who is responsible for a 27,000 square meter project constructing four towers, including office and commercial space attached to a 10,000 square meter mall, has refused to disclose its funding.
With the ongoing crisis in Gaza, Hamas leaders have played it safe and sought refuge in Qatar. Reports of them living in first class accommodations and literally stuffing their faces with extravagant foods have made the rounds in the media over the last week.
Many in Gaza and around the Arab world have expressed their anger and shame towards Hamas leaders as they fight a war from afar while those in Gaza, on the front lines, are left to fend for themselves.